National Security Desk / December 16, 2016

New Sanctions Rebuke Iran, Obama

Congress does what Obama was too weak to do.

In what he probably imagines passes for leadership, Barack Obama on Thursday allowed the recently approved 10-year extension of the 1996 Iran Sanctions Act to become law without presidential signature. Since the extension came with a veto-proof majority (99-0 in the Senate, 419-1 in the House), Obama likely wanted to avoid being embarrassed at having a veto slapped down by Congress. The sanctions covered under the 1996 law will thus continue for another 10 years.

Even for an administration that has spent eight years looking the other way as Iran lied, cheated and deceived on its nuclear obligations, one might reasonably expect the United States to want to retain some form of coercive leverage over Iran. Even fellow Democrats question the administration’s craven approach to this leading state sponsor of terrorism. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, believes the sanctions are necessary to “retain a credible deterrent of putting sanctions back into place should Iran cheat on its obligations under the nuclear agreement.”

Alas, one would be mistaken when it comes to the president and his like-minded advisers from the Neville Chamberlain school of international relations. Obama and court jester John Kerry each sought to provide assurances about the sanctions law — assurances to Iran, that is. “Extension of the Iran Sanctions Act does not affect in any way the scope of the sanctions relief Iran is receiving under the deal or the ability of companies to do business in Iran consistent with the [Iran nuclear deal],” Kerry said.

Iran reacted in its usual way, with over-the-top declarations of intent to pursue nuclear powered ships, a Death Star, and … well, perhaps we exaggerate slightly. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani did indeed declare his nation’s intent to develop nuclear-powered warships to express its displeasure, to which we sincerely say: good luck with that. Iran is chronically unable to fund and maintain its existing navy of misfit toys, most of them western ships purchased prior to 1979. If it wants to waste scarce resources trying to develop nuclear propulsion, we should encourage them to try.

With only five weeks remaining until President-elect Donald Trump takes the oath of office, the Iran nuclear deal is already beginning to show signs of strain. We hope and expect that soon after Jan. 20 Trump will work with Congress to scrap the deal altogether. Iran has successfully avoided harm for 13 years since its nuclear program came to light, and probably thought it had the finish line in sight after out-foxing Obama and Kerry. Reversing the recent direction of the process must be part of the Trump team’s first 100 days, and if the 99.8% expression of support given by Congress in renewing sanctions is any indication, the new president will find allies aplenty on Capitol Hill.

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